Bengals safety Chris Crocker started every regular season game last season, as well as Cincinnati's wild card meeting with the Houston Texans at strong safety (yea, we still remember that play). Crocker turned 33 years old in March, entering his 11th year in the NFL. Now there's always a chance that if Cincinnati attacks the position through the draft -- we're thinking two safeties and some undrafted free agent projects -- that Crocker could be released.
Yea. We don't think so.
The perception that he struggled in 2011, with an opposing quarterback rating of 93.3, might be slightly misleading. Sure he allowed three touchdowns, didn't intercept a pass and allowed an above-average opposing quarterback rating against receivers he covered. There's a couple of missed tackles one could chart, notably against the Houston Texans during January Wild Card loss.
However if you exclude a three-game stretch against the Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens (week 9-11), Crocker's remaining 13 games shows a significant improvement, allowing zero touchdowns, a 41 percent conversion of passes caught against receivers he covered and his opposing quarterback rating drops nearly 40 points to 55.8.
This during a season in which he played through a bothersome right knee, in which he arthroscopic surgery for in early February. Additionally Crocker is scheduled to earn a base salary of $1.9 million with a very manageable $2.3 million cap number. Even if he were released, it wouldn't be considered a salary cap casualty -- it would be making room for better talent.
Crocker finished the season with 74 tackles, 3.5 quarterback sacks, four passes defensed and a force fumble. Hardly a guy that you just ditch in favor of unproven young talent on a safety roster that's already in short supply of bodies.
This doesn't mean that the Bengals won't move on, developing talent that could replace him in the short-term. Nor should it be automatically suggested that Crocker be released, especially considering he has one year remaining on his existing contract with a roster full of safeties that need development.